Word Count 6,095
Teresa made one more run through the house to make sure everything was in order. She was anxious to make a good impression on the new head of the orphanage. Father Petro had died suddenly and the orphanage had been without a leader for months now. She had been thrilled when young Padre Miguel told her they had a replacement. She had offered Lancer as a respite for the padre until his quarters were refurbished. Now all she had to worry about were the men folk. She hurried into the living room and looked around.
“Where’s Scott?” she asked.
“He’s already left to pick up your priest,” Murdoch answered.
“Oh, well how did he look? I mean he was dressed appropriately, wasn’t he?” she asked, quite serious.
“He looked fine Teresa. Yeah he was wearin his birthday suit last time I saw him,” Johnny laughed.
Teresa shot him a look of death. She stalked over to him, hands on hips, and looked him dead in the eyes. “You could at least put on a tie, Johnny,” she said.
“A tie? No way, uh uh, forget it. I ain’t gettin fancied up for no priest!” Johnny said indignantly.
“Johnny, I expect you to behave yourself while the padre is here. He is our guest,” Teresa admonished.
“He’s YOUR guest and I’ll just stay out of the way, ok?” he compromised.
“Johnny, what do you have against priest?” she asked.
“Nothin. I just don’t have any use for ’em, that’s all.”
She shook her head sadly and he turned away from her.
“Well, try to be pleasant, son. He’s here,” Murdoch said as he looked out the French doors.
Johnny bowed at the waist dramatically and Teresa hit him on the arm. She straightened her dress and went to the front door to greet their guest.
“Padre, welcome to our home,” she said with a dazzling smile.
“Thank you, my dear. I am most grateful for your hospitality,” the old priest replied.
“This is Mr. Lancer.”
“Father, welcome,” Murdoch greeted with a handshake.
“Mr. Lancer, your generosity is most appreciated,” he said.
“Please come in, you must be tired,” Murdoch said as he waved his hand toward the inner sanctum of the living room.
Johnny was standing by the fireplace playing with a trinket. He looked up, a smile of greeting on his face that quickly vanished to be replaced by shock. He stared at the priest in disbelief as Teresa settled the man on the sofa.
“Oh, Padre Antonio, this is Murdoch’s other son, Johnny,” Teresa made the introduction.
The priest stood and nodded his head.
“Excuse me,” Johnny said softly as he bolted toward the kitchen.
“Is something wrong?” the priest asked.
“No, no, I’m sure everything is fine. He must have forgotten to do something,” Murdoch covered.
They chatted for a while until it was obvious the older man was ready to nod off. Teresa offered to show him to his room and he quickly agreed. She shot Murdoch a parting glance that said she wanted Johnny handled.
Johnny sat on the bench in the garden deep in thought. So much so that he didn’t hear his father’s approach.
“Johnny,” Murdoch called.
He jumped a foot and jerked his head up, staring at his father. “What!?” he clipped.
“I have seen some rude behavior in my time, young man, but that was inexcusable. Do you mind telling me why you took off out of that room?”
Johnny kept staring at him for a long moment as if trying to decide something, then he looked away. “I told Teresa I’d stay out of the way,” he said barely above a whisper.
“You also told her you would at least be pleasant. THAT was not pleasant, Johnny. THAT was rude!” Murdoch yelled.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
“What’s the matter with you?” Murdoch growled.
“Nothin!” he yelled back and walked away toward the barn.
Murdoch stood there fuming and watching his son storm off.
“What’s wrong with him?” Scott asked as he joined his father.
“I don’t know. As usual, he had no excuse for his behavior,” Murdoch grumbled and stalked inside.
“Where are you going?” Scott asked as he came into the barn to see Johnny saddling Barranca.
“For a ride,” he said rather shortly.
“Look, I know you don’t particularly care for priests in general, but that was.”
“Rude. I know, I heard,” Johnny finished for him.
“Well?” Scott asked.
“Well, what? Just leave me alone. Go play nice to the padre,” Johnny snipped as he walked Barranca out past his brother.
“Johnny, wait,” Scott said as he followed him into the yard.
“Scott, I’m telling you to leave me alone. I can’t deal with you right now!” Johnny said in a low, tense voice.
“Deal with me? I wasn’t aware you ever thought you had to DEAL with me,” Scott huffed.
Johnny shook his head, mounted and took off at a gallop. Scott stood there totally perplexed by his brother’s behavior. He couldn’t understand why Johnny would…his mind came to a screeching halt then as he realized how wrong Murdoch was.
Johnny always had an excuse for his behavior, he didn’t always share it, however. Scott realized that something must really be wrong for Johnny to act this way. He thought about following him but decided against it. Johnny was too angry and trying to confront him now would only make things worse.
“Well, did you get anything out of him?” Murdoch asked in a whisper as they went to the supper table. Scott just shook his head and Murdoch frowned even more deeply. ‘Lord, I’ll never understand that boy,’ he thought. Then he pushed it away and concentrated on being a good host.
Johnny sat on the hill overlooking his home and sighed for the hundredth time. He knew what he had to do but that meant telling Murdoch something he would just as soon not. Still, he couldn’t allow that animal to take over the orphanage. He wouldn’t do that to those kids. His mind drifted back to when he was twelve years old.
“So, you tried to run off again! And take another with you this time, eh? No, neither of you are going anywhere. You will never learn, will you mestizo? Get in that closet, I will deal with you later. Now I will go to teach that other boy. I have warned them all not to even speak to you.”
Johnny fell back into the closet and hit the floor hard. The padre slammed the door shut and locked it. Johnny sat there in the total darkness and awaited his punishment. He hated the old priest. He treated him like filth, but he didn’t treat the others much better. He had tried to get a smaller boy out of the orphanage. The priest had taken a disliking to him for some reason as well.
The closet was Johnny’s special punishment. The priest had learned early on how much he hated being locked up and had used it to his advantage. He stayed in the closet for seven hours, until all the other children had been fed and put to bed and the padre was sure they were all asleep. The priest always kept him locked in the closet of his office so they wouldn’t be disturbed. The door swung open and the light spilled in. Johnny shielded his eyes from the sudden and painful brightness. He felt himself being jerked up by the arm and thrown across the room.
He waited for Johnny to collect himself and dangled the belt in front of him to show him the evening’s punishment. “You will learn not to run away. Sooner or later, mestizo, you will learn,” he hissed.
Johnny stood up and faced him, jutting his small chin out in defiance.
“You think to be proud, mestizo? You have nothing to be proud of. You are worthless, you will always be worthless. No one will ever want you. It would have been better for the world if your mother had sliced you from her womb the second she knew you were there,” he hissed.
Johnny faltered a bit as the words stung him harder than any belt ever could, but he collected himself quickly. Unfortunately, not quickly enough as the priest saw the effect his words had on the young boy. He had found yet another weapon to use on this worthless half-breed, he thought. The priest moved toward him with belt in hand.
Johnny jerked himself out of the memory and realized the sun had set and darkness was looming in on him. He shuddered as it reminded him of the closet. He sat there, unable to move for a long time. He wrapped his arms around himself protectively to shield himself from the pain and rocked slowly back and forth.
Finally, he got up and moved to Barranca. He stroked the palomino’s neck and cooed to him softly. Barranca, sensing his master’s unease, nudged him with his nose and snorted. Johnny smiled at him and laid his head against the horse’s neck.
“A veces, le pienso soy mi solamente amigo, Barranca. Te amo,” he whispered. He mounted his steed and slowly made his way home. Once Barranca was bedded down for the night, he walked to the back of the house and entered through the kitchen. He quietly lit a lamp and made himself a sandwich. As he sat at the table, the memories kept flooding his mind and he was concentrating on trying to make them stop.
“Well, I see you finally decided to make an appearance,” Teresa said, none too happy.
Johnny looked up at her with no remorse on his face, but said nothing.
“Johnny, I asked you, I practically begged you to be nice. Why couldn’t you do that for me?” she asked.
“You should have told me his name. We could avoided the whole thing,” he said flatly.
“You know him?” she asked, suddenly curious.
“Well? Aren’t you going to tell me about it?”
“Nope,” he clipped and walked past her and up the stairs.
“Ooohhh!” Teresa muttered, her fists clenched.
Johnny laid awake most of the night trying to figure out how he was going to approach his father. He knew Murdoch was mad at him for being ‘rude’, so he was going to have to work a little harder to get his father’s attention. He also decided that Padre Antonio had not recognized him, not that he would, he wasn’t exactly twelve anymore. He decided until he could talk to Murdoch, he would be as pleasant as possible to the jerk. That meant spending as little time as possible with him.
He got up early to see if he could charm Maria into getting him an early breakfast and headed downstairs. To his surprise and dismay, Padre Antonio was sitting at the kitchen table talking amiably with Maria in Spanish. He sighed to himself and stepped into the kitchen.
“Mornin,” he said with a smile.
“Buenos dias, Johnny. Are you hungry?” Maria teased. The question was redundant and Johnny knew it so he just smiled at her.
“Padre,” Johnny nodded and avoided eye contact.
“I hope you accomplished whatever was so important yesterday, Senor,” the priest said.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Sorry bout that,” Johnny mumbled, keeping his head down.
“You seem very familiar to me. Have we met before?”
Johnny looked up at him then. He couldn’t hide the animosity he felt for this man. He was about to answer when Teresa saved him. She bounced into the kitchen and was pleased to see the two of them talking.
“Good morning Padre, Johnny,” she chirped. They both acknowledged her greeting.
“Well, gotta get to work. Bye,” Johnny said as nicely as he could as he took off out the back door.
Teresa was stunned once more by his behavior but she covered for him anyway. “He works so hard,” she said with a small smile.
Padre Antonio accepted the explanation but he knew he had seen the young man somewhere before and there was something about him that bothered the priest. He just couldn’t quite place him. Â Â
Teresa was quick to report Johnny’s most current behavior to Murdoch as soon as she could get him alone. She was furious with him for acting so badly toward her guest. Murdoch wasn’t too happy about it either and he decided he would get to the bottom of the problem that very day.
Johnny came home at lunchtime and slipped into the kitchen through the back door again. Maria informed him Teresa had taken Padre Antonio to the orphanage to have a look at the place. He cringed but was grateful he was gone so he could talk to Murdoch. He ventured into the living room having been forewarned of Murdoch’s mood by Maria.
“Hi,” he said as he walked in.
“Johnny, I want to talk to you,” Murdoch said firmly.
“I know. I want to talk to you, too. Before you start yelling at me if you don’t mind,” Johnny replied.
“Alright, go ahead,” Murdoch said as he sat down at his desk.
“This is hard so bear with me. I guess you probably figured out I know that priest,” Johnny started.
Murdoch only nodded.
“Well, I, uh, when I was in Mexico , after my mother died, I was in an orphanage for awhile,” he stopped to gauge his father’s reaction.
Murdoch’s eyes widened in surprise. “You never told me that,” he said.
“I know. I was there about six months. I kept running away but they kept bringin me back. I don’t know why, or maybe I do. Padre Antonio was in charge of that orphanage. Murdoch, you can’t let that man run the orphanage here. You just can’t!” Johnny proclaimed, his eyes pleading.
“Why, Johnny?” Murdoch asked quietly.
Johnny started pacing, playing his fingers against his holster. “He’s a sadistic bastard! He mistreated all the kids. Especially…” he stopped. He knew this would be hard but he was beginning to think he wasn’t going to be able to go through with it after all.
“Especially what?” Murdoch asked.
He took a deep breath and held it, then slowly blew it out. “Especially me,” he whispered.
Murdoch studied his son’s face, what he could see of it, and tried to decide how to proceed. “What did he do to you, son?” he asked, trying to sound as sympathetic as he was.
“Look, it doesn’t matter. Just trust me, ok? He has no business being around children,” Johnny said.
“Johnny, I’m afraid that’s not good enough. I can’t go to the church about this without something to tell them besides he was mean to you.”
Johnny stared at his father. “Mean to me?! He was a hell of a lot more than mean to me! He used to lock me in a closet for hours, then he’d beat me with a belt and tell me how worthless I was. I’m not sure he even knew my name because all he ever called me was ‘mestizo’! He’d call me that in front of the other kids, the other priests. He didn’t care cause he knew they couldn’t do a damn thing about it. He loved telling me how useless and worthless I was every day. Every damned day!” Johnny stopped to breath. He felt like a twelve year old child again, trying to get someone to help him.
Murdoch was stunned, he couldn’t speak. He walked over to Johnny and put his arm around him and felt his son trembling. “Johnny, I .. I’m so sorry.” He couldn’t think what else to say at the moment. He knew it was a pathetic response but he was in shock.
“You have to make sure he stays away from those kids, Murdoch,” Johnny said softly. When he turned to look at his father, his pain was all over his face. Â “There are of lot of kids like me at that orphanage. He hates that more than anything. He’ll hurt them, I can’t…”
Murdoch hugged him and Johnny nearly lost the control he was trying so desperately to hang onto. “It’s alright, son. I’ll figure something out,” Murdoch whispered.
They heard the buggy pull up and Johnny pulled away. Teresa bounced into the house followed by the priest. Murdoch never felt more like hitting a man in his life.
“Well, it won’t be long now until Padre Antonio’s quarters are ready. Things are going along very nicely,” Teresa chirped.
Murdoch forced a smile for his ward but she could tell something was wrong. She thought Murdoch had given Johnny a good talking to and she was waiting to see if it had worked.
The priest walked over to Johnny, who had his back to everyone. “I know we have met somewhere, young man. I just can’t seem to place you. Perhaps if I could actually see your face for more than a second, I would remember,” he said pleasantly.
Johnny whirled around and glared at him. “Take a good look, old man. Remember me now?” he hissed. Â
The priest’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw the blue eyes staring at him. Those same blue eyes that had defied him time and time again so many years ago.
“Yes, yes, I remember,” he said barely above a whisper.
“Yeah, I figured I was unforgettable,” Johnny sneered.
“I would have thought you would be dead by now,” the priest said.
“Sorry to disappoint you. I’m alive and well and I want you to get out of my house!” Johnny said through gritted teeth.
“Johnny!” Teresa gasped.
“Teresa, stay out of this,” Murdoch warned. “My son told you to leave. Padre. I think you had better do just that,” Murdoch said.
“And don’t get any ideas about staying around here either, or at the orphanage, because one way or the other, you’re leaving,” Johnny said, his voice was low, calm and deadly.
The priest smiled at him. “Johnny Madrid. Oh yes, I know what became of you. Just as I said, you were an evil child and you turned into an evil man. A killer, mestizo,” he spat, hate filling every word.
Johnny drew his gun and pointed it in the priest’s face. “You got that right. old man. And I ain’t got no problem sending you to hell right now.”
Teresa thought she might just faint but she pulled herself together and approached them. “Johnny, what are you doing? Put that away!” she gasped through heaving breaths.
“Stay out of this, Teresa!” he yelled.
Murdoch took the priest by the arm and pulled him toward the front door. “I’ll have someone bring your things down. Wait outside,” he said as he practically pushed the man out. He quickly returned to his son’s side and put a gentle hand on the still raised gun and lowered it.
Johnny blinked and brought himself out of the rage he was in. He looked at his father with gratitude for his support.
“Will someone tell me what’s going on here?” Teresa asked.
“Later, dear. Right now I want you to bring the padre’s things downstairs. I’ll have someone drive him to town. I’m sure there’s a stage leaving in the morning,” Murdoch said calmly. He surprised himself, he certainly didn’t feel as calm as he sounded. He was sure Johnny would have killed the man had he not intervened and right in front of Teresa, too.
“Why is the padre sitting in the buggy alone?” Scott asked as he walked in the house.
Murdoch sighed with relief. “Scott, take your brother to his room and wait for me there,” he instructed.
“Why, what’s going on?” Scott asked, disturbed by the pallor on Johnny’s face.
“Just do it, son. I’ll explain later,” Murdoch said a bit gruffly.
Scott approached his brother and took his arm. Johnny looked at him as if in a daze and allowed himself to be lead away. They passed Teresa at the landing of the staircase as she brought down the meager belongings of the priest. She was pale herself and Scott wondered what the devil had happened.
He sat Johnny on the side of the bed and knelt down in front of him. “Johnny? What is it, boy?” he asked, his voice almost trembling with worry.
Johnny stared at him, unable to answer. Suddenly he shook his head, trying to clear the confusion and pain away. “I…I almost killed him,” he whispered.
“Who?” Scott asked.
Murdoch came in before Johnny could answer and sat beside him. “Are you alright, son?” he asked, putting a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
He took a deep breath and pulled himself together. “Yeah, I’m ok, I guess,” he answered, though neither of them was convinced.
Teresa barged in the room looking madder than a wet hen. “I want some answers. How dare you treat a man of God like that?” she yelled.
“Teresa,” Murdoch started.
“No, Murdoch. I have a right to know why Johnny put a gun in his face and threw him out of here!” she demanded.
Scott nearly gasped aloud at this news and turned to look at his brother.
Johnny stood up and faced his tempestuous sister. “Because he’s an evil son of a bitch who has no business around children! Teresa, I know him, he’s …. he’s cruel and hateful and violent!” he spat at her, no longer concerned about her feelings.
“That’s ridiculous! He’s a priest!” she argued.
Johnny tried to control himself and fought with every inch of his being to try and explain it to her. “Do you remember changing my bandages after Pardee shot me in the back?” he asked calmly.
“Yes,” she answered, totally confused.
“Did you see the scars?” he asked.
She dropped her eyes to the floor, embarrassed now. “Yes,” she whispered.
“He put them there! Now do you understand?!” he shouted.
Teresa looked up at him with eyes wide and filling with tears as she realized what Johnny had been trying to tell her. Â
They stood there, facing each other for what seemed an eternity until she finally broke the stare and walked over to him. She said nothing but put her arms around him and hugged him tightly. “I’m sorry, Johnny. I didn’t know,” she cried softly into his chest.
Scott stood beside him in utter shock. He wasn’t sure what to do. Johnny hugged Teresa, then pushed her gently back.
“I need you all to go now,” he said softly as he walked around them to the window.
Murdoch took Teresa in his arms and guided her out of the room, closing the door behind him. Scott stood motionless where he was, realizing why Murdoch closed the door before he could leave as well.
“I guess you want the details,” Johnny said after a few minutes of silence.
Scott approached him and tried to smile. “I only want to be here for you, brother,” he responded.
Johnny turned to face him and Scott immediately took hold of him, hugging him tight. Johnny’s face told the whole story. He looked like a little kid, begging to be saved from the monster that was after him, terrified yet unable to fight back or even run away.
“There is something I want you to do for me,” Johnny said.
“I want you to go to town tomorrow and make sure that bastard gets on the stage,” he said.
“I will, Johnny. I promise,” Scott said compassionately.
The next morning, Scott rode into town to keep his promise to his brother. He checked the stage schedule then went to the hotel to find Padre Antonio. The clerk informed him that the priest had not checked in and he hadn’t seen him. Scott was perplexed so he decided to check with Padre Miguel at the orphanage.
As he rode up to the building, he saw Padre Miguel talking with another priest. His eyes widened in shock when he realized it was Padre Antonio! Before he could approach, the old priest had disappeared inside. He walked up to Padre Miguel.
“Good morning, Scott,” the priest greeted.
“Padre, could I speak with you?” Scott asked, trying to sound pleasant.
“Of course, come in.”
“No, out here, please,” Scott said. “I was under the impression that Padre Antonio was leaving,” he began.
“Leaving? Why in the world would he leave? He only just arrived,” Padre Miguel answered with surprise.
“Padre, would you mind riding out to the ranch with me? My father and I need to talk with you, alone,” Scott said. He didn’t want to make a scene here where the children might overhear. Padre Miguel was agreeable and retrieved a buggy.
Scott walked into the house followed by Padre Miguel. Johnny and Murdoch were in the living room and both were quite surprised by the visitor. Scott was not happy to see his brother, he was hoping to keep Johnny out of this.
“We have a problem. Padre Antonio is at the orphanage,” he said.
Johnny tensed immediately and Murdoch stared at Scott.
“Gentlemen, I do not understand. Why is this a problem?” Padre Miguel asked.
Murdoch looked at Scott questioningly.
“I didn’t want to say anything where the children might hear,” Scott explained.
“Sit down, Padre. We need to talk,” Murdoch said.
“Talk? There ain’t no need to talk!” Johnny said.
“Calm down, son. We need to handle this the right way. Please, Johnny,” Murdoch asked.
Johnny sat down but he was fuming. Murdoch explained the events of the previous day and Johnny’s experience with Padre Antonio. Johnny would not look at the priest and kept fidgeting in his chair. Padre Miguel looked at him with sympathy and shock, but Johnny didn’t see it.
“What are we going to do about this, Padre?” Murdoch asked.
“I will send a telegram to the diocese, explaining the, uh, problem. They will instruct me,” he answered.
Johnny glared at him. “And in the meantime?” he asked.
“I’m afraid there is little I can do, Johnny. Padre Antonio is my senior. I cannot order him to leave,” he explained.
“Well, I can!” Johnny declared as he stood up.
“Wait a minute, Johnny. You can’t kill a priest!” Murdoch said, standing to head off his son.
“The hell I can’t!” he yelled.
“I said no! Now, that’s final!” Murdoch yelled.
“Murdoch! You can’t let him be around those kids!” Johnny exclaimed.
“I will keep an eye on him Johnny. I promise,” Padre Miguel said calmly.
“Oh, you promise. Look, Padre, I know how it works. You all stick together. It doesn’t matter what one of you does, none of the rest will do a damned thing about it!” Johnny hissed.
“That may have been true in Mexico , Johnny. But I can assure you, no harm will come to my children,” he said definitively.
“Wait a minute, everybody. What if I were to hang around the orphanage until Padre Miguel hears from his superiors? I can keep an eye on things,” Scott suggested.
Johnny shook his head in disgust. Unbelievable! He thought. They don’t understand a damned thing!
Johnny was inconsolable. No one could talk to him without getting their head taken off. Even Teresa was not immune to his foul mood. She didn’t complain and took his wrath, never mentioning it to Murdoch. She knew he would yell at Johnny and that was the last thing he needed. She felt responsible for all of this. She had brought him here in the first place. Murdoch walked into the kitchen and caught her crying.
“What’s wrong, darling?” he asked.
“Nothing. I’m just tired I guess,” she lied.
“That won’t do, young lady. Now what is it?” he pressed.
“Oh, Murdoch! I feel awful. It’s all my fault for bringing that…that man here!” she cried and crumpled into his arms.
Johnny was standing at the back door listening. He hung his head, ashamed of the way he had treated her. He approached them quietly.
She looked up at him misery flooding her face. He opened his arms and she flung herself into them.
“I’m so sorry. It’s not your fault. You had no way of knowing,” he said softly, stroking her hair. “I guess I’ve been a real bear, huh?” he said.
She laughed and sniffed. “You have every right, Johnny,” she smiled.
Scott walked in the back door with a glum expression.
Johnny took one look at him and felt his heart drop. “What?” he asked.
“The diocese said they needed proof. Written testimony, an affidavit from you, Johnny. And … someone to back up your story,” he said, hanging his own head.
Johnny stared at him in disbelief. Then he chuckled softly. “I told you, they stick together.”
“Is there anyone you can contact, son?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny looked at him incredulously. “Who, Murdoch? I didn’t even know half those kid’s first names, let alone what happened to them after I left. It’s impossible,” he said.
They all stood there in silence, each trying to find a solution to the problem in their own minds.
“I’m gonna have to talk to him,” Johnny said.
“Wait a minute, Johnny,” Murdoch started.
“No, Murdoch. I’m just gonna talk, that’s all.”
“And say what, exactly?” Scott asked.
Johnny sighed deeply. “I don’t know yet. But I have to do something,” he said and walked out the door.
“Scott,” Murdoch made the request with the single word. Scott followed his brother out the door.
“I’m going with you, just for support,” he explained when Johnny looked at him.
They rode up to the orphanage during a recess. The children crowded around Johnny as he dismounted, yelling and screaming his name. Johnny laughed and played with them for a minute, picking up Melissa, his favorite, and giving her a big hug. She squealed with delight. The bell rang and they all ‘awwwed’ as Johnny shooed them back to class.
He sighed and looked at his brother, then headed inside. Padre Antonio was in his office as they entered. Johnny scanned the room and noticed the closet behind the main door. He shuddered inwardly.
“What are you doing here?” the priest asked, not too pleasantly.
“You know why I’m here,” Johnny said softly.
“No doubt you have heard the diocese decision. So, unless you can find some of your old ‘friends’, we have nothing to discuss,” he said, sneering the word ‘friends’.
“You go right ahead, old man, and keep thinking you’ve won. But I’m here to tell you different. Now I’m going to give you a choice which is more than you ever gave me. You can either leave here on your own or I can make your life a living hell. What’s it gonna be?” Johnny said.
His voice was even, no malice or anger, and his eyes were expressionless as he stared into the eyes of the devil.
“There is nothing you can do to harm me, mestizo,” the priest hissed.
Johnny smiled at him. A smile that did not reflect in his eyes and held the locked stare between them. Scott was beginning to get very uncomfortable with his brother’s posture. He had seen it a few times before and he knew what it meant. The priest broke the stare and Johnny kept smiling.
“Leave now, I have work to do,” the priest said and Johnny noticed the slight tremble in his voice.
“I’m not leaving, you are. If you don’t, everybody in this town, this valley and this state will know what you are. My father has very powerful friends, Padre. Like the lieutenant governor. I’m sure he can get a very nice story published in, oh say, the Sacramento newspapers. Oh, and let’s not forget about San Francisco , Stockton , and a few others. How do you think the church would like that?” Johnny asked, the smile still on his face. Â
“You wouldn’t!” the priest gasped.
Johnny laughed softly. “Believe me, the alternative is I send you straight to hell. You will wait for me there, won’t you?’ he asked with mocked sincerity. “Now, I suggest you pack up and get out. Oh, and I think a nice monastery would be just the right place for you. Don’t you agree?”
The priest looked into the eyes that had haunted him for years. He remembered the nightmares of awakening in his bed to those eyes staring down at him with just that smile playing on his face and the loud report of the pistol as he shot him in the chest. He’d had that nightmare many times. Every since he had learned what had become of the boy he loathed.
“I should have killed you when I had the chance,” he whispered.
“Funny, I was thinkin the same thing. Of course, I still have the chance,” Johnny replied.
“Very well, I will leave tomorrow.”
“No, you will leave today. There’s an afternoon stage to Sacramento , be on it!” Johnny ordered.
Scott and Johnny watched the priest board the stage to Sacramento and followed it for ten miles out of town. They turned then and headed for Lancer. Johnny was quiet, lost in his thoughts and Scott was apprehensive to attempt any conversation.
“You ok?” he finally asked.
Johnny nodded his head.
“Want to stop for a minute?” Scott tried again.
“What for?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t know. Talk, maybe.”
“Sure,” Johnny said to Scott’s surprise.
They turned off the road at a clearing near a stream and watered the horses. Johnny stood staring out at the countryside. Scott waited for his brother to start, he knew better than to push him any further. The fact that Johnny had agreed to stop indicated he wanted to talk and that was enough for Scott.
“Life’s funny, Boston . You go along thinking things a pretty good, then all the sudden, something shows up and slaps you in the face. It never fails. The past … is a bitch.”
“Was there ever anything good about your life before, Johnny?”
He smiled at this question. “Sure, there were good times, good friends. Just not enough of them to …. balance , ya know?” he asked with a frown.
Scott looked at him, trying not to show sympathy for he knew his brother would not appreciate that.
“No, I guess I don’t know, really,” he answered.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that Scott. I really am.”
“Johnny, I … Look I know you hate it when you think someone is feeling sorry for you but … I can’t help it. It’s not fair! You don’t deserve this, any of it! It makes me so angry to think of everything you’ve been through while I was sitting pretty in Boston . Never having to worry about anything except which party I was going to attend. It makes me sad. I wish … God, I wish we had been together,” Scott poured out his heart to his brother and prayed he wouldn’t be angry.
Johnny moved to his brother and hugged him.
“Ya know something. I kinda think, well maybe I had to go through all that stuff to appreciate what I have now. Maybe I wouldn’t have known how lucky I was if I’d had it easy. Besides, I kinda like the idea of you sitting pretty in Boston . I bet you were real pretty, too,” he said and laughed.
Scott smiled at him. “You can play it off if you want to, brother. But I still hate it,” Scott said.
“Murdoch said the past is over and done with. I know that’s not true but maybe it’s partly true. I mean, we can’t hold onto it, Scott. If we do, it’ll eat us up inside. It hurts sometimes, but as long as I’ve got you, I know I’m okay.” Â
“How do you do it, Johnny? How can you just shrug it off?” Scott asked.
“What do you want me to do? Feel sorry for myself? Cry? What good would it do?”
“Just promise me one thing. Anytime it seems like the past is sneaking up on you and you feel like it’s about to take a bite out of you, talk to me. Okay?”
“Okay, Boston . I promise. I… I just want to say that I’m glad you’re my brother. I mean, I’m not just glad to have a brother, but that it’s you. I … I, um, oh hell! I love you, Scott.”
Scott hugged his brother again. “I love you too, little brother. Now let’s go home. Murdoch’s going to be worried.”
mestizo = half-breed.
veces, le pienso soy mi solamente amigo, Barranca. Te amo. = Sometimes, I think you’re my only friend, Barranca. I love you.
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